Will Topley has a sprightly sense humour, delightfully polite manners and a great passion for dogs and parrots, he and his wife have an African Grey parrot called Anna, two whippets and very miniature, enthusiastic 14 week old Italian greyhound. They live in a picture perfect old vicarage in the south of England, the house is often in a state of flux as artists materials are transferred between the house and the Mercedes motor home/ mobile studio for painting excursions all over England and France. The paraphernalia for location painting cannot be underestimated… Tripods, paints, an open box M palette, lights, a windproof umbrella, a basket of mediums or thinners and another basket of prepared canvases.
The studio is in an C18th thatched barn behind the vicarage, shared with his wife who makes beautiful picture frames out of exotic shells, Topley’s half is crowded into two overlapping parts for painting or making easels and the library-office with his computer, there are some serious speakers attached to the ceiling as he likes to listen to Jagjit Singh while painting.
Topley paints everything from very detailed elegant interiors and exteriors of stately homes and palaces to utilitarian garden sheds; his client list is very aristocratic, with both Middle Eastern and British princes being among his fans. His renown began after he a painted a bedroom at Chatsworth which was admired by the Prince of Wales who subsequently commissioned three interiors of Clarence House. In fact it is surprising how many bedrooms and boudoirs Topley is invited into, to paint, both the American Ambassadors wife and Mrs Heinz have commissioned him.
In Delhi Topley’s still life compositions are very desirable amongst the cognoscenti, his dealer Javid Abdullah is anticipating another collection.
At 14 years Topley announced to his incredulous art teacher he was going to be a painter and has never faltered. He taught at St Mary’s Calne, the independent school for girls, for ten years and now he teaches a weekly class at the Royal Drawing School. He explains that Life Drawing was becoming a lost art due to the advent of Abstract Expression during the 1960’s. Topley says “I am a great admirer of Prince Charles; in recent years, teaching drawing in art schools had practically ceased to exist in the UK. The Prince has put a great deal of time, thought, energy and money into establishing what was the Princes Drawing school, now known as the Royal Drawing School. He wanted to do something to help to reverse this decline and I am glad to say he has done so with great success.
It takes some courage to take on the art establishment – a substantial amount of money and a lot of people’s reputations are at stake – but it was an important matter and no one else was prepared to try. He has been an important part of the recent resurgence of drawing from life that we have seen in the last few years.”
Topley teaches a mixed ability class but finds that women students have the greater work ethic however if they get interrupted (to have a baby or something) they have a crisis of confidence. At the Royal Drawing School he gets very good students who need encouragement to rediscover their talent.
He has even taught a Chinese film star to paint in oils to fill in the downtime during the shooting schedule, he was very impressed by his student’s listening ability and his intent to get it right, Topley puts this down to the habit of being directed.
Presently Topley paints medium size canvases from life, with each painting taking about 3 weeks, because of the incredible detail, but his next personal step is to branch out in a new direction, with the French Barbizon School of Nature Painting as his muse he will follow in the footstep of Corot and Millet; he will experiment with beginning a painting en plein air and working it up into a larger picture in the studio.